(Photo credit:ITF & taken by Eisele/Giubilo/Zimmer)
It was only a matter of time before Roger Federer broke through against Juan Martin del Potro.
And in typical Federer fashion, he did it in the most dramatic way possible.
After four hours of exhilarating, record-setting tennis, Federer finally put away del Potro 3-6, 7-6 (7), 19-17 on Friday to advance to the gold medal match for the first time in his storied career, securing Switzerland's first medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
But it wasn’t easy. At four hours and 26 minutes, Federer and del Potro set the record for the longest three-set men's singles match in the Open Era.
The top-seeded Federer had numerous chances to swing the match in his favour – to nail down the one piece of hardware missing from his bursting trophy case.
The crowd cheered, the opportunities came and went, but Federer, arguably the greatest player of all time, struggled to capitalize on his game-changing break point chances and more than once placed an easy put-away shot into the net.
"It was a big match obviously. Very tough from start to finish,” Federer said. “Juan Martin did so well to hang in there. I got lucky in the second set to get back and then in the third it was so tough.
“I don't think I have ever played as long a set in a best of three-set match and it was over four and a half hours, so it was very physical at the end and so mental. Obviously I feel bad and horrible for Juan Martin but he can be very proud."
It was a spectacular display of resistance from del Potro, who has been dominated by Federer in his career. Coming into Friday's match del Potro had dropped five straight matches to Federer, with five coming in 2012. In his career, del Potro had only won two of 14 matches against the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
"It is tough to speak now, I feel sad, but Roger made a fantastic match, he is a good winner,” Del Potro said. “When you lose you can't see the good things. I'm very sad at the moment. I just hope I will be better before my mixed doubles match."
After dropping the first set, Federer survived an edgy tie-break in the second set, setting the stage for the dramatic and grueling 163-minute third set.
It looked like Federer had finally found his seam in the 17th game.
Up love 30 on break Federer made his way towards the net, exchanging quick volleys with del Potro. But right when it looked like Federer had del Potro down and out, the Argentine made a brilliant lunging stab to avoid triple break point. The crowd stood and cheered the effort, and del Potro, who fell and seemed to be favouring his hip, used the momentum to rally and hold serve.
Unflinching, Federer held serve the next game and finally kicked down the door the game after, breaking del Potro with a chance to serve for the match.
That appeared to be all Federer needed – that one break and a chance to serve for the win. But to no avail. Del Potro broke right back and stole the game without giving up a point.
And on it went.
"I think I was calm. I was good throughout,” Federer said about his mindset during the third set. “But obviously serving against the match so many times, it's hard and it takes its toll and I maybe could have been out of the match earlier as a winner but also as a loser. So I thought I was fortunate to stay in there. I liked my attitude today, so I am very happy."
Federer only converted two of 13 break point opportunities to go along with an uncharacteristic 41 unforced errors. Del Potro also converted two breaks (on seven opportunities).
Federer will play the winner of Great Britain's Andy Murray and Serbia's Novak Djokovic in the final on Saturday, although the world’s No. 1 isn’t too concerned which of the two he faces.
"No one. I'm happy. I got my first medal for Switzerland," Federer said.
The four-time Olympian hasn’t had much success in singles competition. Prior to London 2012, his best finish at the Olympic Games was a semi-final loss at Sydney 2000 when he was 19 years old. At Athens 2004, Federer, the top seed, was eliminated in the second round; at Beijing 2008 he was upset by James Blake in the quarter-finals.
That's all fine and dandy but why don't the Canadians get to see it?!. Put some tennis on for once instead of swimming, gymnastics and pretty much every other sport on the planet.
Out of 6 matches CTV has only broadcast one. ONE freaking match!. Staying glued to the t.v. hoping they'll show it at prime time perhaps.
On a different note congrats Rog! knew you could do it :).